Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Youth Wing leader and businessman, Lesang Magang has this week officially announced his decision to contest for the partyís prestigious position as Secretary General, at the partyís next elective congress billed for July 2021.
Magang told WeekendPost this week after lobbying from democrats and also as a result of his own reflection, he has offered himself to serve in the position.
The former Youth Wing leader said, out of respect, he has also reached out to President Mokgweetsi Masisi, to inform him of his decision.
ďHe is the party leader. And out of respect and also since we share the philosophy of transforming the country and party, I have sought his audience. I will not go into much detail on this save to say I have massive respect for his desire not to divide the party by engaging in formation of lobbyists though some people had tried to misrepresent him on this score,Ē Magang told WeekendPost.
ďI had served the party really well in my youth and I thought itís time to come back. All that experience in business and politics is now required by the country and party. We live in critical times whereas the BDP we need to transform to survive. And I am a transformational leader. I would want to be part of leading the transformation of this party alongside a President who has clearly voiced his desire for transformation or party and country.Ē
Unlike the previous congress where the chairmanship defined the congress, the position as Secretary General will be the most sought after position. Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane is unlikely to be challenged for the Chairman position.
However, Mpho Balopi, who is the incumbent Secretary General has not attracted the same luck, as a number of democrats intends to challenge him for the position.
Magang, who is the son of former cabinet minister, David Magang, indicated that the 2021 congress, the first since 2017, would be critical in the sense that the soul and future of the party may be at stake.
ďIt will mark a turning point for the party in that the leadership so elected will be responsible for preparing us immediately for the 2024 general election. Before then even, the leadership elected will have to rebuild structures, fix Bulela Ditswe and foster trust and integrity in our primary election and internal systems. In short, we will need to rebuild the confidence of our members in our systems so as to survive 2024 and extend our rule.Ē
Having served in the party structures before ó including the Central Committee during the presidency of Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae ó Magang believes such experience will come handy in helping the party to consolidate its power.
ďI know the heart and soul of the party like the back of my hand. I know how we used to do things yet am equipped with how things ought to happen today and for the future,Ē he said.
ďI have seen the party grow, fall and rise again. And all that experience I can use to help President Masisi transform the party to position it for the future as he has rightly pledged to do. For instance, when I speak of building structures itís something Iíve done before- weíve crisscrossed the country before being hosted by Democrats to help mobilize and build structures and we made it mad fun.Ē
Despite not participating in the 2013 and 2018 party primaries after an unsuccessful bid in 2008, Magang contend that he has always been serving the party behind the scenes.
He said it is during this time that he had the luxury of reflecting and also preparing for the next political involvement within the party.
ďWhen I was not leading at the front I was an active follower that assisted in the campaigns of others. For instance, I served in the BDP Communications and International Relations Committee before and was also a manifesto champion for the party in the run up to the 2019 general election,Ē he argued.
ďI would say then that spending time being led and not being on the front leading has shaped my thinking. I have learnt to listen more, I have learnt to follow. And they say the best lessons in leadership include learning to follow.Ē
ON IMPLEMENTATION OF BDP MANIFESTO
With the partyís victory in the 2019 general election partly on the basis of its pledges in the manifesto, BDP face the tough task of delivering its promises, which include among others reviewing the countryís constitution and Citizen Economic Empowerment (CEE).
ďThe party must govern. We have a very good system in place where we keep a large professional civil service but the BDP is held accountable every five years. So we need the party to hold government accountable,Ē he said.
ďThrough the office of the Secretary General, we need to continuously have the party position being made clear such that our pledges are always top of mind.Ē
Magang argued that the party should also support government programmes which in essence are party programmes.
ďThe party must proudly use its structures to promote uptake of government programmes in order for people to benefit. Many of our people could do with benefiting from government programmes,Ē he said.
ďWithout being unfair or side-lining the opposition, we must have people in our structures and our members being assisted to enrol in government programmes. Mananeo a puso a tshwanetse a bonelwa mo madomkrageng mme re sa dire botsotsi bope fela, re rotloetsa re bo re rutuntsha botlhe mo pontsheng.Ē
Magang believes the constitutional review forms key components of BDPís transformation pledge and said it is necessary for the party to ensure that it happens.
ďIt is absolutely critical. Our constitution has served as well, but we must review it in order to take the next giant leap for our development and democracy. I am proud that this is a key BDP pledge and one we intend to make happen.Ē
REBUILDING THE PARTY
BDP suffered two splits in the last 10 years, a development which has seen the party losing its status as invincible, and many observers believes the party could soon go past its glory days.
ďThe BDP of our forefathers was more than just a political party. It was an organization of people who were friends from all over our country, people who missed getting together again in song and conferences. It was as much a party as it was a brotherhood/sisterhood in which everyone felt they were welcome and had a place,Ē he said.
ďThis mentality penetrated even to our party structures. Structures existed and were strong because there was fellowship, and they were also adequately monitored and engaged. The structures held their own activities regularly. In so many places, our structures ran activities that became entertainment platforms for people to look forward to. We need to urgently get back to building structures that are not only visible before congress or primary elections.
ďThis way, we will not easily split. The spirit of being democrats would prevail and we all would also know that one needs not have power at all costs.
ďWe have problems because sometimes people feel the need to win at all costs that they resort to even cheating to win- and some have previously even been facilitated by leadership to cheat. Bulela ditswe is a prime example. This cannot be fair and only leads to infighting.Ē
The newly elected Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) Executive Committee led by Pastor Reverend Thuso Tiego has declared their disapproval of homosexuality saying it is anti-Christianity and Botswana culture.
Speaking at a Media Briefing this past week, BMD President Tiego said Botswana has been a country that respects culture hence endorsing homosexuality will be catastrophic.
‚ÄúOur young generation grew up being taught about types of families, if homosexuality is passed, at what age will our children be introduced to homosexuality?‚ÄĚ he rhetorically asked.
He continued: ‚ÄúIf we are going to allow homosexuality then the next day, another person will come and say he wants to practice bestiality. What are we going to do because we have already allowed for this one (homosexuality) and at the end it will be a total mess.‚ÄĚ Bestiality is sexual relations between a human being and an animal
This according to Tiego will give those people an opportunity thus disrupting known Botswana beliefs. He however dismissed any notion that the decision to condemn homosexuality should not be linked to the top two of the committee who are men of cloth. ‚ÄúThis is a decision by the whole committee which respects the culture of Botswana and it should not be perceived that because we are clergymen we are influencing them, but even if we do, politics and religion are inter-related.‚ÄĚ
Of late the church and the human rights organization have been up in arms because of the high court decision to allow for same sex marriages. Ministries ganged up, petitioned parliament and threatened to vote out any legislator who will support the idea. The ruling party, BDP which was to table the amendment in the constitution, ended up deferring it.
BMD President further revealed that he is aware of what really led to the split of the party and he is on course to transform as they approach 2024 elections.
‚ÄúThere are so many factors that led to split of party amongst others being leadership disputes, personal egos and ambitions, toxic factionalism and ideological difference just to mention a few, but we are transforming the party and I am confident that we will do well in the coming elections.
In addition, Tiego is hopeful that they will take the government as they feel it is time to rebrand Botswana politics and bring in fresh blood of leaders.
He further hinted that they are coming with positive transformation as they eye to better the lives of Batswana.
‚ÄúWhen we assume government, we promise to be transparent, free and fair electoral processes and encourage pluralism as way of getting back to our roots of being a democratic country as it seems like the current government has forgotten about that important aspect,‚ÄĚ Tiego explained.
Reeling under the increasing barrage of stinging international sanctions, the isolated North Korean regime is reportedly up to its old trickery, this time in a more complicated web of murky operations that have got the authorities of five southern African countries at sixes and sevens as they desperately try to tighten their dragnet around Pyongyang‚Äôs spectral network of illicit ivory and rhino horn trade.
It is an intricate network of poaching for elephant tusks and rhino horns that spans Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, with the main sources of the contraband being Botswana and South Africa.
The syndicate running the illegal trafficking of the poached contraband is suspected to be controlled by two shadowy North Korean government operatives with close links to one Han Tae-song, a disgraced North Korean career diplomat who, while serving as the second secretary at his country‚Äôs embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, was expelled in 1992 after he was fingered as the mastermind behind a similar illegal ring that was busted by the country‚Äôs authorities.
This disturbing tale of malfeasance by North Korean state actors is as real as it gets.
Recent reports indicate that authorities in the source countries are jointly battling to plug holes created by the shadowy syndicate which allegedly has on its payroll, park rangers, border officials and cross-border truck drivers.
Even more disturbing are allegations that some wildlife officials are conniving in misrepresenting numbers of retrieved rhino horns and ivory from poachers and getting kickbacks for their involvement in the pilfering of ivory and rhino horns from government stockpiles especially in South Africa.
In a shocking and well-orchestrated movie-style heist in South Africa, thieves in June this year made off with 51 rhino horns after breaking into a very secure government stockpile facility of the North West Parks Board (NWPB).
While some suspects from South Africa and Malawi were nabbed in a government sting operation, none of the rhino horns – 14 of which were very large specimens that can fetch serious money on the black market ‚Äď were recovered.
A report of the heist said the police were lethargic by eight hours in responding to an emergency alert of the robbery which was described by North West police spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone as ‚Äú‚Ä¶ a case of business robbery‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
Thabang Moko, a security analyst in Pretoria says the military precision in the burglary, delays in police response, and failure to recover the stolen rhino horns is dubious. ‚ÄúThis development lends credence to suspicions that some government officials could be part of a shadowy syndicate run by foreign buyers of rhino horns and ivory,‚ÄĚ Moko says.
It is understood that in light of the rhino horns heist in North West, South Africa‚Äôs Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy on 1 August, shared her concerns to her counterparts in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique calling for greater regional cooperation to combat the illegal wildlife trafficking which she believes is being masterminded by the Far East‚Äôs buyers of the ill-gotten horns and ivory.
It is believed that foreign kingpins involved in perpetuating the illegal trade are mainly North Koreans vying against Vietnamese and Cambodian buyers in the quest for dominance of the illicit trade in rhino horns and ivory sourced from southern Africa.
Creecy‚Äôs concerns, which she also shared to South Africa‚Äôs state-run broadcaster SABC, echoed Moko‚Äôs worries that the North West heist may have been an inside job.
According to Creecy, there was a need for the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol)‚Äôs greater involvement in joint investigations by affected countries as there were indications of ‚Äėlocal knowledge‚Äô of the North West job and that syndicates, ‚ÄúHigher up the value chain actually recruit park rangers to the illegal ivory trade network.‚ÄĚ
Botswana‚Äôs Environment and Tourism Minister Philda Kereng is on national record admitting that poaching was a source of headaches to her government, especially considering that the daring poachers were making successful incursions into secure areas protected by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).
This came after poachers gunned down two white rhinos at the BDF-protected Khama Rhino Sanctuary in August 2022 despite Kereng putting the time frame of the killings between October and November 2022.
Kereng hinted at the existence of Asian controlled syndicates and acknowledged that the surge in poaching in Botswana is driven by the ‚Äúincreased demand¬†for rhino horn on the international market‚ÄĚ where in Asia rhino horns are believed to be potent in traditional medicines and for their imagined therapeutic properties.
Botswana has in the past recorded an incident of a group of an all-Asian reconnaissance advance team teams being nabbed by the country‚Äôs intelligence service in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
Masquerading as tourists, the group, with suspected links to North Korea and China, was discovered to be collecting crucial data for poachers.
Also according to reliable information at hand, an undisclosed number of wildlife parks rangers were arrested between September 2022 and January this year, after information surfaced that they connived in the smuggling of rhino horns and ivory from Botswana.
One of the rangers reportedly admitted getting paid to falsify information on recovered horns and ivory which were smuggled out of the country through its vast and porous eastern border with South Africa, and making their way to their final destination in Mozambique via back roads and farmlands in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
‚ÄúWe are aware that in the past year, some rhino horns and ivory illegally obtained from Botswana through poaching activities and shady deals by some elements within our wildlife and national parks department, have found their way out of the country and end up in Mozambique‚Äôs coastal ports for shipment to the Far East,‚ÄĚ a Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) source says.
Independent investigations reveal that two North Korean buyers, one of them only identified as Yi Kang-dae [confirmed to be an intelligence official in the country‚Äôs state security apparatus], acting on behalf of the disgraced Han Tae-song, financed the entire operation on two occasions between 2022 and 2023, to move at least 18 rhino horns and 19 elephant tusks from Botswana, including pay-offs – mostly to border patrol and customs officials for safe passage – along the knotty conduit across South Africa‚Äôs north western lands, then across south-eastern Zimbabwe into Mozambique.
According to a trusted cross-border transport operator in Zimbabwe, the rhino horns and elephant tusks were illegally handed over to smugglers in Mozambique at an obscure illegal crossing point 15km north of Zimbabwe‚Äôs Forbes Border Post in November 2022 and February this year.
The end buyers in Mozambique? ‚ÄúIt is quite an embarrassment for us, but we have solid evidence that two North Korean buyers, one of them who is linked to a former notorious diplomat from that country who has been in the past involved in such illegal activities in Zimbabwe, oversaw the loading of rhino horns and ivory onto a China-bound ship from one of our ports,‚ÄĚ a top government source in Maputo said before declining to divulge more information citing ongoing investigations.
Yi Kang-dae and his accomplice‚Äôs whereabouts are presently unclear to Mozambican authorities whose dragnet reportedly recently netted some key actors of the network. Han Tae-song currently serves as North Korea‚Äôs ambassador to the United Nations in Switzerland.
North Korean diplomats have in the past used Mozambique as a final transit point for the shipment of rhino horns to the Far East.
In May 2015, Mozambican authorities nabbed two North Koreans, one of them a Pretoria-based diplomat and political counsellor identified as Pak Chol-jun after they were caught in possession of 4.5kg of rhino horn pieces and US$100,000 cash.
Pak‚Äôs accomplice, Kim Jong-su, a Taekwondo instructor also based in South Africa, was fingered as a North Korean spy and returned to North Korea under suspicious circumstances on the heels of Pak‚Äôs expulsion from South Africa in November 2016.
A security source in Zimbabwe closely following current developments says there is a big chance that Han Tae-song may have revived the old smuggling network he ran while posted in Zimbabwe in the 90s.
‚ÄúThe biting international sanctions against North Korea in the past decade may have prompted Han to reawaken his network which has been dormant for some time,‚ÄĚ the source says. ‚ÄúThere is no telling if the shady network is dead now given that Han‚Äôs two front men have not been nabbed in Mozambique. More joint vigilance is needed to destroy the operation at the source and at the end of the line.‚ÄĚ
North Korean diplomats have, as early as October 1976, been fingered for engaging in illegal activities ranging from possession of and trade in ivory pieces, trade in diamonds and gold, the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit currencies, pharmaceuticals, and the sale on the black market, of a paraphernalia of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and other trinkets on the back of protracted and biting international sanctions against the reclusive state for its gross human rights abuses against its own people and flagrant nuclear tests.
These illegal activities, according to a US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, have raked in at least US$500m annually for the Pyongyang regime. Other global studies estimate that North Korea‚Äôs illegal earnings from the black market are around $1bn annually, and are being channelled towards the country‚Äôs nuclear weapons programme, while ordinary North Koreans continue to die of mass starvation.
In February 2014, Botswana, citing systematic human rights violations, severed ties with North Korea with the former‚Äôs president Mokgweetsi Masisi (then vice president) calling North Korea an ‚Äėevil nation‚Äô on 23 September 2016, at a United Nations General Assembly forum in Washington, USA.
Botswana has¬†close to 132,000¬†elephants, more than any of its four neighbouring countries, namely Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to a 2022 Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) Elephant Survey.
The rhino population in Botswana has significantly dwindled, with poaching a leading cause of the decimation of the country‚Äôs rhinos. Despite dehorning and relocating its diminishing rhino population from the extensive Okavango Delta to undisclosed sanctuaries, Botswana has since 2018, lost 138 rhinos to poachers.
The sharp spike in rhino poaching in Botswana came after the country‚Äôs government made a controversial decision to disarm park rangers in early 2018.
In a statement delivered in November 2022 to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) CoP-19 in Panama, the Botswana government instead blamed the surge in poaching to a shift of foreign-sponsored organised poaching organisations from South Africa to Botswana.
‚ÄúThis increase in rhino poaching in Botswana coincided with a decline of rhino poaching in South Africa from 2018 to 2020, suggesting a displacement of the poaching syndicates from South Africa to Botswana,‚ÄĚ the statement reads. ‚ÄúThe recent decline in rhino poaching in Botswana (2021 and 2022, relative to 2020) coincides with the increase in rhino poaching in Namibia and South Africa, further suggesting displacement of the poaching syndicates across the sub-region.‚ÄĚ
According to the Botswana government, as of 13 November 2022 the country has secreted its shrinking rhinos (only 285 white rhinos and 23¬†black rhinos) in undisclosed locations within the country‚Äôs borders.
South Africa has close to 15,000 rhinos. Between January and June 2022 alone, poachers killed 260 rhinos in South Africa for their horns. The country is home to the majority of Africa‚Äôs white rhinos, a species whose existence remains under threat of extinction due to poaching.
The major threat posed by foreign state actors including those from North Korea, to southern Africa‚Äôs rhino and elephant population remains grim as the bulk of the rhino horns and elephant tusks reportedly continue finding their way to the Far East, where China is being used as the major distribution centre.